I feel like I’ve read dozens of articles with a headline like, “7 Signs Your S.O is Also Your Best Friend.” I always do the same thing: read them, check off the boxes, and click away feeling satisfied with my stable, secure relationship.
Aside from listening to what magazines tell me I should do in relationships—don’t judge me, you do it, too!—my parents preached to me about looking for a partner who could also be my best friend. And when they speak on love, I listen, because it’s been 25 years, and my dad still calls my mom his best friend. (Cue the awws.)
But recently, there’s been a strange amount of pushback about whether or not it’s actually wise to think of your boo as your bestie. People are ranting about the conflation of the two terms in articles and blog posts, which leaves us wondering: Should we be BFFs with our S.O. or is that role better filled by a platonic friend?
With all the different opinions flying around, in our opinion, it’s best to hear from doctors and scientists on whether the terms BFF and S.O can be together forever or have to tragically split like Justin and Selena. Four doctors and researchers recently talked to The New York Times about this subject, offering a variety of takes on the matter, which means you can pick and choose which advice best fits your relationship.
It May Boost Happiness
If you want your partner as a best friend, you’ll probably relate to what John Helliwell, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics and the editor of the World Happiness Report, discusses in a study he led.
The study asked 30,000 people to quantify their life satisfaction. It turned out that when couples who were asked separately who their best friend was, those who named their spouse were twice as likely to have higher life satisfaction. That’s a real happiness correlation with having your partner as your best friend.
Still, this clearly doesn’t mean the only way to be happy is to have your partner as your best friend, because, as Helliwell adds, it’s like having a bonus to the existing relationship. Although the data sounds sublime, other doctors aren’t convinced, and call on other research to defend their anti-BFF relationship arguments.
Michelle Obama has called President Obama her best friend.
It’s a Way of Affirming Your Relationship
The relationship train is something humans have been riding for a long time, which means people got pretty good at understanding what constitutes a successful S.O. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, says the only reason we’re even using the term “best friend” as it relates to our partner is because everyone else’s relationships are, unfortunately, not successful.
In other words, a partner is supposed to be consistent, available, responsive, reliable and predictable—or ‘CARRP,’ as Levine calls it. The term “partner” is supposed to include these five facets, but not everyone does, which means we’ve resorted to calling our successful partners our “best friend,” too, because we want to affirm them, and the world, that we’re in a beneficial relationship.
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have called each other “best buddy.”
…But it Can Also Hurt Your Relationship
Doctors Peter Pearson and Ellyn Bader are the married founders of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA. They’re vehemently opposed to calling your S.O. your BFF because they believe the words mean two completely different things.
Dr. Pearson describes what a best friend is: “One of the criteria for a best friend is you feel unconditionally accepted,” he said. “Do I care if my buddy Mark is messy in the kitchen, leaves his bathroom a shambles and doesn’t pay his income taxes?” But when it comes to a relationship, these things have to be addressed, and if they aren’t, it can lead to major tension and conflict avoidance, says Dr. Bader.
The purpose of a relationship is to evolve, says Dr. Bader, who dispels the myth that we can never change our partners. Instead, we need to “push each other, challenge each other, encourage each other and, yes, change each other.” These qualities might be present in a friendship, but they work very differently romantically, and provide more leeway to address and incite change directly.
Well, the science is in, and I, personally, agree with Dr. Bader and Pearson—friendships and relationships are just two totally different things. That doesn’t mean you can’t confide, complain, and goof off with your S.O. like you would your BFF—it just means that you value and treat them differently. And if you don’t like that, keep calling your S.O. your best friend because frankly, if it’s making you and your partner happier, why not? It’s all really semantics, anyway.